Most of our daily actions are driven by the desire to ensure the best living conditions for our loved ones.  At the same time, we try, as much as possible, to remain healthy and engaged in life around us.

It is therefore natural that people feel anxious when something as serious as a pandemic occurs and their livelihoods are threatened, placing their well-being and the well-being of their loved ones in peril. All this is being caused by an invisible enemy – COVID-19. The level of apprehension increases if within the family, there are vulnerable persons.

The lack of global knowledge about the virus and its fast transmission has compelled the government to issue directives which have changed our routines and our lifestyles. Change is difficult at the best of times, let alone when one has to introduce drastic directives overnight.

The economic life of the country, as we knew it, had to stop. With it, work activities have changed drastically. Some have switched to new ways of working, such as using more technology, while face-to- face contact is decreased drastically. The worst hit are those whose work cannot be switched to an alternative mode of working, or vulnerable persons. Overnight, successful businesses were at risk of closing down.

However, in crisis situations, the resilience of human nature should never be underestimated. On the contrary, often it brings out the best of us. The great majority of our population have behaved admirably and with great responsibility by following the instructions of the health authorities. The reports of people seeking out each other and looking after each other, by making arrangements to support each other, within the guidelines provided, is overwhelming.

Our sense of solidarity has no bounds- Michael Falzon

There is no doubt that the maturity and sense of responsibility that we are witnessing across the islands is what will finally get us out of this predicament, with the least possible damage, yet strong enough to continue once again with our life’s dreams and plans.

These are defining moments for us as a nation. This is a time where we need to refuse to be consumed by fear and rise up to the occasion. The value of solidarity that underpins our national identity kicked in and the most vulnerable were immediately identified and prioritised. The elderly and those with chronic conditions, as well as those at risk of losing their jobs, became the focus of the government.

Systematic directives to protect the health of our people and strong investment in resources to augment the current medical facilities went into top gear, while a multi-million euro injection to the economy was made with the specific purpose to save jobs. These measures ensured that those workers in the lower income bracket will not suffer disproportionately, while those with commitments were given a degree of security.

The moratorium on the repayment of house loans and the increased rate of rent subsidies for those who lose their jobs are some concrete examples.

My ministry was at the forefront of driving a number of measures that best supported those most in need. Workers in the private sector who lose their job and who under normal circumstances qualified for the contributory unemployment benefit shall now benefit from the additional unemployment benefit. Those registering under part one of the unemployment register shall also qualify for this benefit. The two benefits together amount to €166.15 for full- time workers and €103.85 for part-timers per week.

In addition, their social security contributions will be paid and thus their pension rights safeguarded. In these cases, the children’s allowance will also be adjusted upwards. Those persons already receiving in-work benefit will continue without deductions while those on supplementary allowance shall also have the rate adjusted upwards.

The government also took into consideration those workers who are unable to work from home and need to take care of their children. They now qualify for parent benefit with similar benefits to the above. In addition, those benefitting from in-work benefit or tapering of benefits, shall also receive it without deductions.

Persons with disability who are unable to work from home and who for medical reasons are precluded to leave home, shall qualify for the person with disability benefit. Their pension rights shall also be safeguarded and in case they are already receiving the disability assistance, they will continue to receive it without deductions.

Not only that, but the government shall also review and adjust as necessary. While one aspires that no society ever faces such harsh a predicament, these are times that are testing our capacity and our resolve to take the right decisions.  These being consistent with the values that shape us as a caring nation in harmony with itself.

We are not yet out of the woods, but we will prevail. Together we are bigger than the predicament we face, because our sense of solidarity has no bounds.  I am proud to be part of this great nation.

Michael Falzon is Minister for the Family, Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity.

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